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Wolfgang Schüssel (born June 7, 1945) is an Austrianmarker People's Party politician. He was Chancellor of Austria from February 2000 to January 2007. Since 2006 he has been chairman of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) faction in parliament.

Early life, education, and start in politics

Born in Viennamarker, Schüssel attended that city's Schottengymnasium, a well known Roman Catholic gymnasium for boys, where he took his Matura exams in 1963. He went on to study at the University of Viennamarker, receiving a Doctorate in Law in 1968.

Schüssel was secretary of the parliamentary group of the Austrian People's Party from 1968 to 1975. From 1975 to 1991, he was Secretary General of the Austrian Business Federation, a sub-organization of the Austrian People's Party.

Minister in the "Grand Coalition"

He became Minister for Economic Affairs on April 24, 1989 in a coalition government under Chancellor Franz Vranitzky (SPÖ) formed by the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP).

On April 22, 1995, at the 30th Party Congress of the ÖVP, Schüssel was elected national leader of the Austrian People's Party.

On May 4, 1995, Wolfgang Schüssel was sworn in as Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs in Franz Vranitzky's fourth government. He held the same posts in Chancellor Vranitzky’s fifth Cabinet. In Chancellor Viktor Klima's (SPÖ) first government, from January 28, 1997 to February 4, 2000, Schüssel was again Vice-Chancellor and Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Chancellor of Austria

The Schüssel I government

On February 4, 2000 Wolfgang Schüssel was sworn in as Chancellor, following a defeat in the 1999 election, after which his party ended up trailing Jörg Haider's Freedom Party (FPÖ) by 415 votes. Until then, his party had been the junior partner in a coalition with the SPÖ. However, talks to renew that coalition failed, which induced Schüssel to enter a coalition with the Freedom Party. He became Chancellor, even though his party ranked only third, by a narrow margin.

The government headed by Schüssel was - in its beginnings - probably the most controversial since 1945, which to a large extent is due to the coalition formed with the populist right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), whose leader at that time was Jörg Haider. Although Haider was never a member of Schüssel's government, his participation raised widespread criticism, both inside and outside of Austria.

Between 2000 and 2002 there were weekly Donnerstagsdemonstrationen (Thursday Demonstrations) through the city and the inner districts of Viennamarker. The coalition with the Austrian Freedom Party and various policies aiming at achieving the much-maligned Nulldefizit (zero budget deficit) were the main points of criticism.

In an attempt to pressurize Schüssel's democratically elected government into submission, the heads of the governments of the other 14 EU members decided to cease cooperation with the Austrian government, as it was felt in many countries that the cordon sanitaire against coalitions with parties considered as right-wing extremists, which had mostly held in Western Europe since 1945, had been breached. Because nothing in the legal framework of the European Union supported an official measure, informal (and officially non-existent) "sanctions" were imposed by mutual consent. For several months, other national leaders (most of all France's president Jacques Chirac, Germany's chancellor Gerhard Schröder, and leading Belgian politicians) ostracized the members of the Schüssel government, refusing basic social behavior and keeping unavoidable contacts to the legally required minimum. (However, the very same European Union politicians had not even considered such measures against Italy earlier in 1994, or afterwards in 2001, when the highly controversial Silvio Berlusconi established his governments with right-wing Alleanza Nazionale and the outspokenly anti-European Lega Nord.) Government supporters often blamed the opposition social democrats and President Thomas Klestil for the so-called "sanctions" imposed by the EU14 and their loyalty to the country was thus put into question.

Schüssel's government was the first after 30 years with a Chancellor who was not a representative of the Austrian Social Democratic Party (SPÖ). Schüssel's ÖVP had been a member of all governments from 1945 to 1970 and from 1986 onwards, but had never been completely excluded from power (even though its influence was considerably attenuated during Bruno Kreisky's era) because the tradition of social partnership meant that representatives of all major interest groups in the country would be consulted before any policy was enacted. When Schüssel came into power, he broke with that tradition, which many Austrians had considered an unwritten part of the constitution, in order to be able to rapidly implement reforms that he felt to be necessary. Government supporters claimed this to be the true reason for the demonstrations and for the so-called "sanctions".

The organized unfriedliness carried on for months while both the Austrian government (and - behind the scenes - also the EU-14) sought a solution for the untenable situation. Because the "sanctions" were only a means of coordinated diplomatic behavior and not founded in the EU-Charter, EU-law did not provide a way out. After a couple of months a delegation of 3 experts (die drei EU-Weisen) was sent to Austria to examine the political situation and to determine if the EU-14's "sanctions" could be lifted. Their report did not find reasons that would permit the other EU-members according to then existing EU-law to engage in further measures going beyond those that are allowed in international law. However, the more important conclusion the report draw was that a framework for exactly these kind of situations should be implemented and incorporated into EU-law. This subsequently happened with the amendments to the EU-treaties in Nicemarker in 2001. Following the report, the EU leaders tacitly returned to normality during the summer of 2000 even though the Austrian government remained unchanged, allowing the center-right parties to claim a sort of "victory".

Though the "sanctions" did little material damage, their psychological effect was lasting and profound. In Austria, they essentially ended the broad popular support which the European Union had initially enjoyed in the country. In the populations of some EU member states, the frequently highly manipulative media coverage of the affair reinforced simmering anti-Austrian prejudices that dated back many decades, or even to World War I.

The Schüssel II government

By the summer of 2002, a series of lost elections had resulted in considerable internal strife in the FPÖ, which was instigated by Haider and some of his closest allies. When the leading proponents of the more pragmatic wing of this party, Vice Chancellor Susanne Riess-Passer and Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser, announced their resignation, Schüssel broke the coalition and announced general elections, which were held prematurely in November 2002 and led to a landslide victory for Schüssel. However, after negotiating for months with both the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the Green Party, Schüssel decided to renew his coalition government with the Freedom Party, which had been reduced to a mere 10 percent of the vote. On February 28, 2003 he was sworn in as Chancellor again, this time with the confidence of having won the elections.

In April 2005, the FPÖ effectively split in to two parties, namely the old FPÖ and the new Alliance for the Future of Austriamarker (BZÖ), which consists of Jörg Haider, the former FPÖ government members and most FPÖ members of the National Council of Austria, while the party base in most states remains with the old party. In spite of this change in the nature of his coalition partner, Schüssel continued the coalition until the end of the current legislative period (see Austrian legislative election, 2006). However, after the election Schüssel mentioned that a coalition with Haider's party or the Liberty Party wouldn't be reasonable.

Following the death of Liese Prokop on December 31, 2006, Schüssel was sworn in as interior minister on January 2, 2007, and served in this additional post until a new government was formed, which occurred on 11 January.

Chairman of the ÖVP Parliamentary Group

Following the 2006 election, Schüssel became Chairman of the ÖVP Parliamentary Group. He announced after the September 2008 election that he would continue to sit in parliament only as a backbencher; Josef Pröll was to replace him as Chairman of the ÖVP Parliamentary Group.


The government's attempts at achieving a balanced budget (called "Nulldefizit") while being more successful than similar attempts in some other European countries have failed. Some of the effect was reached by raising taxes and fees, but quite significant cost-cutting measures were undertaken, many of which caused significant criticism. For example, the Austrian education system has suffered considerably, as is shown by the PISA study released in 2004. Costs are being cut at universities, even though the government proclaims that it will bring teaching and research to a "world-class" level. Cost-cutting in the security sector is blamed for an increase in crime.

At the same time, Schüssel's government increased public spending in certain areas. For example, the new "Kindergeld" (children money) to help families replaced the old "Karenzgeld", which was dependent on the recipient standing in employment. This change was a nod to a Freedom Party, which had campaigned for this measure.

The decision to replace the old Draken fighter planes of the Bundesheer with 18 Eurofighter(originally 24 were ordered, this number was reduced after the 2002 floods) was seen as waste of money by the opposition, most of all because of the attempts to save money in almost every area of the public administration. The government's arguments for this was that the Austrian State Treaty, according to which Austria needs to be able to defend herself, is to be read to imply that Austria must be in complete control of her air space. The opposition argued that this goal could have been reached in a much cheaper way.

Starting from around 2030, the unfavorable structure of the population pyramid will create a ratio of active to retired workers of 1:1. Schüssel's pension reform has led to reduction of future pensions and at the same time a raising of the retirement age. Schüssel's reform of the Austrian pension system is more broad-sweeping and thus more likely to be effective than all previous reforms in this area combined. However, experts insist that it should have been still more ambitious, but despite of this fact the SPÖ and the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions (ÖGB) protested heavily and argued that the pension losses, limited by Schüssel to 10% and later reduced to 5%, were excessive.

Recent efforts to reform the military and to create a uniform pension system are proceeding. One result of the military reform is by many hoped to be a reduction of the mandatory military service to six months, or even an abolition of military service. From 2005 onwards, corporate tax will be reduced to 25%, which is hoped to stimulate investment and economic growth. The measure is thought to be necessary, as neighboring countries which recently entered the EU, such as Slovakiamarker, have even lower tax rates. However, critics sometimes argue that such a tax advantage for firms is unfair to other tax payers (the highest tax bracket for personal income tax is 50%) and may even be unconstitutional.

President of the European Council

Austria succeeded the United Kingdommarker in holding the European Council Presidency on January 1, 2006. In the presence of Germanmarker Chancellor Angela Merkel, Schüssel promised to lead the European Union "Hand in Hand" with Germany, and Merkel promised that Germany would do everything to "help" Austria during its presidency and make it a success. Schüssel also stated that Austria needed "some friends of the presidency". This led to Brussels diplomats describing the Austrian presidency as "the small German presidency", according to French newspaper Le Figaro.


  1. "Austria's chancellor sworn in as temporary interior minister", Associated Press (IHT), January 2, 2007.

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